The donors who bought more than half a million dollars of classroom supplies for Mecklenburg County teachers last year don’t have names like Belk or Levine.
They’re regular people who donate $10, $50 or $100 to make sure local classrooms have books, beanbag chairs, software, magazine subscriptions – whatever classroom teachers need to help students learn. They pooled their resources through DonorsChoose.org, a classroom crowd-funding site that ensures givers that their money goes directly where it’s needed.
The site, created by a Bronx high school teacher 15 years ago, has raised money for more than 600,000 projects. It has drawn some big-name donors, including billionaire Bill Gates and comedian Stephen Colbert. Foundations, corporate sponsors and donors who opt to give 15 percent to DonorsChoose.org cover the costs.
Most of the 1.8 million supporters are what the site calls “citizen philanthropists,” making small donations that have added up to $344 million nationwide.
66 percent of all public schools have at least one teacher using DonorsChoose.org
$678 average project cost
$58 average first-time donation
When DonorsChoose.org debuted in Charlotte in 2003, it brought in just over $26,000 in donations for 105 projects. Last year, donors gave more than $580,000 for 1,090 projects in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and local charter schools. The total is more than $3.2 million.
At Invest Collegiate charter school in uptown Charlotte, gym teacher T.J. Toteno has raised $5,300 for physical education and sports equipment. He says school leaders suggested that teachers do some fund-raising to help the school gear up – it opened in 2013 and is still adding grades. “I kind of took that and ran with it,” says Toteno.
Here’s how it works:
1. Teachers write a proposal. It must include specific supplies that will be purchased, the cost, a description of the school, how the supplies will benefit students and the number of students that will be reached.
2. DonorsChoose volunteers review the proposal. Once it’s approved it goes online, where it can stay for up to four months.
3. Prospective donors can search for projects by city, school, grade level, type of project or school poverty level. They can donate any amount.
4. When a project hits its goal, DonorsChoose.org ships the supplies directly to the school. About two-thirds of projects are fully funded.
5. If a project falls short, donors get an account credit. They can use that to support a different project or send the original teacher a gift card.
6. All donors get class photos and a report from the teacher. Those who give at least $50 get handwritten thank-you notes from students.
Some of the projects listed last week for the Charlotte area:
▪ Flash drives for Harding: A high school social studies teacher seeks $502 to buy flash drives so students can use digital historical documents.
▪ Snacks for Sedgefield: A teacher at the high-poverty elementary school is trying to raise $203 to buy snacks for hungry kids.
▪ Book carts for Sugar Creek: A teacher at the K-10 charter school hopes to raise $470 for book carts to organize classroom fiction and nonfiction. reading.